SPARKLERS / Strengths

What Can I Discover?

Practice listening, asking questions, having conversations and building empathy.
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Print me:

Each student will need an Armband - there's 2 to each sheet to halve the numbers of printing!

Why we love it

Listening is the basis of all communication, but it’s a skill that needs to be practiced and learned. The initial temptation can be to talk about ourselves, especially if we’re unsure what questions to ask! But learning about others helps us build empathy and connection. These strengthened friendships make both parties feel good, because connecting with others is a fundamental human need.

Tikanga tips

Māori and Pacific tamariki may find this activity tricky – talking about yourself may make them feel whakamā (shy or uncomfortable). We have it on good authority though that korero in this way, should be encouraged. Give tamariki extra help, or pair them with empathetic others to help them out if needed.


Ask tamariki:

  • Why is listening to other people is important?
  • What can get in the way of listening?

Let students know that listening is a big part of making friends, being a good friend and being good at conversations. It can also be how we make our most interesting discoveries about people!

When we know more about a person, we tend to understand and connect with them more, and they tend to connect with us more. We discover we have things in common, and we can empathise with them in really positive new ways (empathy or kindness may be one of your school values).

When we listen to others, we never know what we might discover!

Ask tamariki:

  • What does it look and feel like to be listened to?

What to do

Give students a copy of the Armband worksheet, and have them cut it out.

(Tip: Have Sellotape on hand for this exercise! early!)

Ask tamariki to pair up, or place them in pairs. They’ll each get a minute to ask questions, and a minute to answer questions. Ask them to decide who’ll ask questions first.

Before you start, say the goal is to get to know as much about their partner as you can.

Give the first person their minute; then tell them to switch.

Once the second minute is up, ask each person to choose one topic they felt was interesting about the other person. If their partner is okay with that topic, write this on their armband. E.g. ‘Dogs’. Then ask pairs to take a small piece of tape each, and to help each other to secure their armband in place (around their upper arm).

Before moving on, ask:

  • What it was like being the questioner.
  • Was it hard to think of questions?
  • Did anyone run out?

Then ask:

  • What it was like being questioned – probably much like interrogation!

Ask tamariki to swap over again, but this time the person asking the questions should look really bored! They might yawn, talk slowly, look away, pretend to use a cellphone.

Try this for a very short time, then get them to switch.

Stop and ask:

  • What was this like? Especially for the person being questioned.
  • How did their first conversations compare to this one?

They’ll come up with all the answers you need to move into how to be a great listener and have a great conversation,

Some tips for great conversations that you may want to highlight:

  1. Find a topic the other person is interested in (we don’t have to know anything about it ourselves!). In this case the work is done for us, because a good topic to ask about is on their armband!
  2. Ask follow-up questions: This gives the person a chance to tell you something more. E.g. if they like dogs you could ask “So why do you like dogs?” “What is it you like most about them?” “Do you have a dog?” “What kind of dog do you like best” “Why do you like that kind?” “Is there anything you don’t like about them?”
  3. Try “why” and “what” questions as these lead to the person saying more than just “yes” or “no”.
  4. Ask yourself: “What do they want me to know?” This reminds us to listen, and to ask questions that open the door for them to tell us interesting things.
  5. Repeat or summarise what the person is saying back to them, to check you’ve got it right and give them a chance to add new information.

Try it out!

Make sure tamariki have their topic armbands on, then ask them to form 2 circles (of equal numbers) one on the inside of the other, like a doughnut.

Ask the inner and outer circles to face each other so everyone has a partner (you might join in if you have an odd number).

For fun, get the circles to move in opposite directions, one clockwise, one anti-clockwise, to gain new pairings. Say “freeze!”

Give them 30 seconds to chat with the person they’re facing and learn as much about their topic as possible. Repeat so both parties have a turn listening / asking questions, then get the circles to spin again, saying Freeze at a new spot.

Continue until you’ve completed two or three pair matches.

Regroup, and ask some tamariki:

What was their most interesting discovery about the people they talked to?

Repeat the initial questions:

  • What was it like to be the questioner?
  • Was it easier once you focused on one topic?
  • What about being asked questions?
  • Did it seem like the person was listening more?

Ask tamariki whether they might keep practising this skill, and let them know you will return to this activity.

Now they know what to do, you can use this as a quick 10-minute warm-up exercise anytime!

What next?

  • Impromptu conversation - ask tamariki to try this at home and report back on any discoveries from their whānau.
  • Take it outside - for an active extension, go outside and have partners pass a ball to each other as they speak – much like the ‘talking stick’ you can ask questions when you have the ball, and answer when you have the ball, but not speak otherwise. It will take some practice and possibly a lot of shouting, but it brings some fun back to practising ‘the art of conversation’!

We love Circle Conversations:

  • Circle conversations (where only one person can speak at a time) can build trust, bring about meaningful korero, and promote deeper thinking about topics and ourselves.
    • To encourage respect for the person talking, you could bring a ‘precious object’ to share with tamariki, telling them a story about how this object came to you, and saying that only the person holding the object can speak. This could be anything from a piece of driftwood, to something given to you by someone special, or something you bought at a significant time.
    • Tamariki generally enjoy hearing the story of the object and are often more accepting of the rule of only speaking when you are holding it, if they know it’s in some way special.
    • It helps too if you’re able to relate the object to the day’s topic of conversation.

Some great topics for circle conversations are:

  • What’s your favourite thing to do in the Summer/Autumn/Winter/Spring?
  • Who gave you your name? Does it have a special meaning or were you named after someone?
  • What have you learned in the past that’s been important for you?
  • What would you change about this school, if you could?
  • Who is someone that’s impacted your life positively?
  • If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would that be and what would you do?
  • What do you feel the most grateful for?
  • What’s a gift you’ve received that you’ll never forget?
  • When was a time you were outside your comfort zone, and what did you learn?

For loads more great ideas, we recommend The Little Book of Circle Processes series by Kay Pranis, from which this final activity has been adapted.

Thank you to...

We’d like to thank the wonderful Tōtara teachers at Lyttelton Primary school for their creativity and wisdom. We really appreciate all of your help.

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